Only very occasionally lately have I been given the chance to look out over a congregation from behind a pulpit.
Decades ago an ecumenical job in Manitoba with the Inter-Church Committee for World Development Education fairly regularly thrust that experience on me.
Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Churches there often provided me with opportunities to preach or speak on one aspect or another of a Christian’s responsibilities in our rapidly emerging global community. Over the years I have also been welcomed to the front of Baptist, Unitarian, Mormon and even a Reform Jewish congregation among others.
Pastor David Taeger’s retirement from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church here in Whitehorse last fall and the long process of trying to find a replacement for him lead to their liturgy committee’s kind invitation to me to take to their pulpit last Sunday.
The Gospel reading was from John. The passage, John 20:19-31, recounted the story of the apostle Thomas’ unwillingness to believe his fellow disciples when they told him of their encounter with a risen Jesus. This act labelled poor Thomas. He became for the millennia ‘Doubting Thomas’.
My reflection focused on the positive aspect of doubt. Can doubt be an essential component to growth, spiritual and intellectual? Looking around our world today it is nearly impossible not to doubt the efficacy of our political and economic institutional structures in meeting the challenges confronting us. This doubt can pushed us forward or at times dragged us kicking and screaming towards new ways of thinking and behaving.
Thomas in his eventual meeting with the risen Jesus proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” His doubt opened him ultimately to believing more deeply. But I can’t imagine him or the embryonic community he was part of not continuing to question the path they were beginning on. Doubt must have been a constant companion as they began forging this minor off-shoot Jewish cult into a world religion.
Some of those questions are recorded in the epistles and the Acts of the Apostles. Should the non-Jewish populations of the Roman world who were being drawn in increasing numbers to the egalitarian vision of a just, Christ centred society be required to strictly follow Mosaic Law?
What happens when the parousia, the second coming of Jesus, isn’t to be as imminent as anticipated? Should the model Christian community be one where “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common”? (Acts 4:32)
Doubt should not be confused with disbelief. Questioning is as essential today as in the time of Thomas. A recent paper from the Woodstock Theological Centre of Georgetown University in Washington, DC titled Young Adult Catholics: Believing, Belonging and Serving highlighted this particular group’s healthy questioning.
A break in adhesion to conventional markers of religious identity such as regular church attendance doesn’t mean a loss of faith but rather “that many young Catholics place a higher importance on service to the poor and social justice,” remarked sociologist James Davidson.
Questioning of clerically dependent institutions weakened by scandal and sharply decreasing numbers for traditional priestly vocations may have led them to this stance. How the church responses to this questioning will in large measure determine whether the gap between the institution and the faith community will grow or narrow.
Thomas is thought to have travelled to India in 52 c.e. There were Jewish colonies on the west coast since ancient times. Jewish communities and Christian continue to reside in Kerala today. One hopes that Thomas continued to doubt and that we do too.
Rev. Keltie VanBinsbergen, the long-serving pastor of Whitehorse United Church, has accepted a new charge in the Maritimes. She and her family will be leaving us this May. She will be missed.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, April 26—Third Sunday of Easter. A suggested reading is Luke 24: 35-48.
Sunday, April 26—Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi assassination in 1998 Is remembered. He chaired the Guatemalan Truth Commission which placed primary responsibility on the military for human rights abuses in that country’s long civil war.
Thursday, April 30—Saint James the Great’s martyrdom in 44 c.e is commemorated by Orthodox Christians.
Friday, May 1—International Workers’ Day recalls the struggle for the 8 hour working day and commemorates events in labour history such as the Haymarket Square Massacre in Chicago in 1886.